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Work in the US with a NAFTA visa

Updated on March 13, 2011

Most people don't know that many Canadians are entitled to work in the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It's the fastest way I've seen to get a US work visa.

Expect to work longer and harder than ever before. The software industry especially is hyper-competitive. There are many benefits to working in another country. Working in the United States is the big leagues with the latest and greatest technologies and practices, Silicon Valley is the mecca of software engineers, Hollywood calls to the acting industry. Salaries are generally higher .in the United States. When you return to Canada you'll have expanded your horizons and improved your resume

Under the NAFTA agreement you need to be a professional (basically have a university degree) or valuable employment experience to qualify. I qualified with my systems engineering degree plus experience. Another buddy qualified with his many years of Unix systems administration. But degrees aren't necessary in many fields - a Japanese-Canadian family friend qualified as a sushi chef.

The first hurdle to gaining your NAFTA visa is an interview with a US employer. Living in Vancouver I attended IT shows and conferences. At the conferences, I tried  to find Canadian  engineers already working with US companies. My big break was an engineer from Toronto who invited me to visit his San Jose office to talk over a project. I waited for a phone call or email for a week, but didn't hear anything. I emailed to remind him about our conversation and inquiring  about  a visit. An email came back from a lady in human resources asking for my resume. Finally I got the call inviting me to  "Come on down to San Jose!"

The interview was actually a series of interviews with the engineers on the team, lunch with my prospective boss in the company cafeteria and finally a 15 minute meeting with the company CEO. At the end my prospective boss asked for my references. Fortunately I had already arranged 3 references including another Canadian engineer working in the networking division of the company who could offer a glowing review.

Next step is salary negotiations. Don't lowball yourself. This is the big leagues calling. I asked for twice my current salary. After putting the phone down, I  thought, "Crap. That's it. I blew it by asking too much!" Ten minutes later the HR lady phoned back to offer 80% of my request plus a $7000 sign on bonus and an additional $10000 annual bonus if I achieved all my targets. I accepted. I forgot all about asking to have my moving expenses covered.

A month later I had a SSN and was diligently writing database software in the heart of San Jose. My coworkers and I were so busy racing to deliver the code that I forgot to eat meals. The company put me up in a posh hotel with swimming pool so I could concentrate on SQL code rather than finding accommodation.

Note the NAFTA visa allows you to work only with the employer on the VISA and needs to be renewed annually.

For many Canadians, A NAFTA visa is your fastest ticket to a US Visa be sure to check it out.


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